SPRINGFIELD – With three weeks left in their spring session, Illinois lawmakers wrapped up another week Friday with a vote on drones policy but without clear signs of progress on a proposed income tax extension and other budget issues.
Legislative leaders say they are still working on gathering enough votes for a Democratic proposal to extend the temporary tax increase, which is inherently tied to their other main task – approving a budget for the next fiscal year.
Senate President John Cullerton said this week he was confident he had enough votes in his chamber to pass a tax increase. But House Speaker Michael Madigan said he was still talking to his caucus to gauge support in his chamber, where Democrats hold a 71-47 majority.
Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, described an “uphill fight” in getting the 60 votes needed for passage in the chamber. But he dismissed talk of lawmakers voting on just a one-year extension or other ways to make the measure more palatable in an election year.
“There’s a million ideas,” Brown said.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello of Smithton, who opposes making the current 5 percent rate permanent, says there’s been talk among rank and file lawmakers about extending the rate for a year, instead of letting it roll back to 3.75 percent in January of 2015. The rollback is expected to cause an estimated loss of $1.6 billion in revenue.
Meanwhile, state agencies concluded presenting their budget requests to lawmakers, projecting cuts would lead to lost jobs and reduced services. In an election year, officials with the state Board of Elections said cuts would make it hard for them to validate approximately 1.1 million constitutional amendment petition signatures submitted last week.
On Friday, before adjourning, the House unanimously approved legislation that extends state regulations to private operators of drones, unmanned aircraft that can be used for aerial surveillance. Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the measure helps maintain expectations of privacy. The General Assembly passed a measure last year to regulate drones owned by law enforcement.
The American Civil Liberties Union says more “explicit language” was needed in the measure because private drone operators are increasingly conducting surveillance. The law ensures that law enforcement cannot turn to the private drone operators to conduct surveillance and evade the earlier law’s regulations.
The measure now heads to Gov. Pat Quinn.